Is this Sonic love-song able to keep up the pace with the games it idolizes?
While Nintendo and platformers are currently enjoying a well deserved resurgence, If you cast your mind back to the darker days of 2015 the landscape for both was quite different. When Freedom Planet originally launched for the WiiU it was a breath of fresh air to a system that desperately needed more games and to a genre that hadn’t received a good Sonic game (or something similar) in years. But now on a system and genre that are both in full swing, how does the Mega Drive love letter hold up?
Freedom Planet started out as a Sonic The Hedgehog fan game, before the creators reached out for help and the title took on a life all of it’s own with original characters, settings, abilities and an interesting focus on sci-fi and Chinese influence. And while the title is born out of a love for older titles, never does it feel dragged down by this.
The 16 bit graphics are bright and fluid, with the designs of the titles many anthropomorphic characters being consistently great and expressing comedy & emotion fantastically. Whilst the game admirably offers lots of cut scenes and voice acting, with a story that is genuinely interesting and dark at points, the quality of both swings from great to awful throughout the campaign.
You play as either Sash Lilac or Carol Tea (a dragon & a wildcat respectively), with both characters behaving differently while both control with an energetic flow that makes movement feel sharp & satisfying whilst hurtling through the games many rich worlds. The developers have taken the best parts of classic Mega Drive titles such as Sonic & Rinstar but applied modern day sensibilities to them whilst draping this framework over a fresh, marvellous world and plot.
Small improvements to the formula make a huge difference, such as earning the ability to dash by collecting feathers, which keeps up the momentum of exploring the world to collect these items, then being rewarded with another opportunity at a speed boost when you have enough. Similarly, whilst hurtling through levels if you pass through an opponent this won’t automatically damage and stop you in your tracks. Instead enemies only harm you when they attack you, which adds to the overall flow and helps build a fantastic smooth stream of stringing together attacks and then boosting yourself at full speed to continue exploring the world.
Bosses add even further to this dynamic with most being played on levels that have you continually running along a track, with a great variety of designs that are continually impressive huge robot monstrosities as well as a few different measures to get rid of them. The soundtrack by BlueWarrior and Woofle (available here https://galaxytrail.bandcamp.com/album/freedom-planet-official-soundtrack ) is absolutely stellar and only furthers the games energy & commitment to a sense of urgency throughout. Throbbing synths and slapping basslines help propel you through the world, while the game works to make you feel like you’re in control of this speed at all points.
Freedom Planet takes all of the best aspects of a Sonic game, and then builds on it to make something that works on it’s own and to a whole new level. The characters and story are sadly fairly forgettable, even if there are some interesting and surprisingly dark elements. With the game balancing a wacky tone with some genuinely distraught moments, but never having the writing or voice acting to sell it either way. It’s all serviceable enough but does eventually drag down a game with much more potential.
If you want to play the best Sonic game made since the Mega Drive (until Mania, time has not been kind to Freedom Planet in this sense) then this game is where you should spend your money. Mechanically, visually & through a wonderful sense of urgency this game is a delight to zoom through from start to finish. Never letting up in new areas, enemies or soundscape with all given a beautiful attention to detail, just don’t expect to remember a moment of the story after the credits roll.